Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Guest post: Michael Helquist on Marie Equi

Don't forget, we'll be hosting Michael Helquist tomorrow, Thursday, September 17th, 10-11 am, BICC building, room 429. Please join us! To whet your appetite, here's a guest post by Mr. Helquist with some information on his research at HC&A and Dr. Equi's tenure at OHSU:


Historical biographies are possible because curious, dedicated librarians and archivists accommodate one more project and one more researcher who seeks their insight and hopes for their passion. I was fortunate to receive both for my biography of OHSU graduate Marie Equi (1903) at the Historical Collections & Archives of the university. At that time Sara Piasecki, former librarian of the collections, and Karen Peterson, former archivist, guided me through a trove of materials essential to my understanding of Marie Equi’s early medical study and career.

Marie Equi transferred to what was then the University of Oregon Medical Department in 1901 after completing two years of study at two different medical colleges in San Francisco. She was an earnest student, but she had developed a reputation for arguing with professors. She also endured considerable taunts from male students. Yet, documents in the OHSU collection revealed that Equi’s graduating class was one of the few to achieve gender equity, five women and five men. I also confirmed that Equi’s female companion in the California schools, Mary Ellen Parker, accompanied her to Portland, enrolled at OHSU, and graduated at the same time.

The historical records yielded significant information relevant to Marie Equi and other women students, especially the pioneering work of Lucy I. Davis who authored “A Study of Women Graduates of the University of Oregon Medical School and Willamette University.” Many graduates enjoyed solid, productive careers while a few had a tough time making a living or balancing a career with family life. Several made enormous contributions to medical care for the poor, lodging for unwed mothers, reproductive health services, and civic reforms, such as campaigns for pure milk and clean markets. A few sought to make national and global changes in woman suffrage, economic justice, and peace.

One physician I tracked closely was Belle Cooper Rinehart, class of 1897, who later co-founded a hospital and a nurse’s school in The Dalles, Oregon. Equi had befriended the older, married Rinehart years earlier when Equi homesteaded in the 1890s. Rinehart was the wife of the mayor, and Equi visited her at her house, reading in her library, and seeing her as a mentor. Rinehart also took a nontraditional route to medical school, enrolling only after the death of her husband.
Rinehart tried to block Equi’s graduation from OHSU. She reportedly told Dean Simeon Josephi that Equi’s temper was too fierce to function effectively as a doctor. The dean did not heed the warning.

Three years after obtaining her license, Equi was touted for her exceptional bravery and courage when she joined a contingent of Oregon doctors who rushed to aid victims of the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906. Equi was the only woman physician to join the group. After scouring through the medical school’s Annual Announcements and copies of local medical journals, I was able to profile the other doctors to understand better the dynamics of the relief mission. Equi travelled to Bay Area with doctors who later became influential civic and medical leaders, including Dean Kenneth A.J. Mackenzie. My research formed the basis for my talk in OHSU’s lecture series in 2006, for an article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, and later for another chapter in my biography of Equi.

The materials and assistance from OHSU were both essential to completing my biography of Dr. Marie Equi, the first well-known lesbian physician in Oregon and the first physician in the region to adopt radical strategies to effect political change.

By Michael Helquist

MARIE EQUI, Radical Politics and Outlaw Passions
By Michael Helquist
Published by Oregon State University Press
Available September 15, 2015
For more information and author’s blog: michaelhelquist.com

Join us in welcoming Michael Helquist to OHSU for a lively discussion: 
Thursday, September 17, 10-11am
OHSU Main Library, BICC Building, Room 429
Book reading and light refreshments

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